Used Future by The SwordRelease date: March 23, 2018
Label: Razor & Tie
For their previous release, 2015’s High Country album (I’m excluding their disappointing acoustic accompanying piece Low Country), saw hard grafters The Sword take a trip into classic rock territory whereby Judas Priest, ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy were inspirations. It was a blatant move to explore wider circles from the stoner rock they were originally associated with in their formative years. For their 6th album Used Future is no re-treat back to any earlier comfort zone. Instead, they use High Country as a starting base to branch out and do so by plying an extra serving of synths while an overall refined, restraint maturity to the songs and grooves is the outcome. But, before fans start sweating, contained within all of this is still essentially the essence of The Sword.
And one of the defining trademarks about these Texan rockers is their ability to conjure fine nifty riffage. And this is what hits you across the album on the first few plays. These are the initial hooks to pull you in, especially when they collide with crashing cymbals, gliding guitar solos over the top as they indeed do on early standouts ‘Deadly Nightshade’, and ‘Twilight Sunrise’. While the loud/quiet instrumental ‘The Wild Sky’ manages to commendably stretch their sound out but also, in a somewhat opposing parallel, gives the most obvious glimpse into their earlier more condensed, distorted stoner rock leanings. As initial post-rock guitar doodling paths a journey into explosive blasts and haunting synths prod an apocalyptic atmosphere.
On further listens it becomes apparent there is also a subtle conciseness to their song-writing, which give the songs like ‘Book of Thoth’, the southern rock swing of ‘Used Future’, and the synth endorsed melodic ‘Don’t Get Too Comfortable’ a compact fat-free quality. It would be interesting to know as to what extent producer Tucker Martine did get involved, if at all, in any of the song writing and which ideas he did bring to the table. This is the Tucker Martine who has produced a wealth of artists in recent times including The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, and the exemplary indie-folk, singer-song writer Laura Veirs.
What becomes apparent is Tucker’s selection as producer confirms the band’s intentions to keep their sound moving forward. Tucker brings a crisp, clear production which radiates, and the unrushed feel allows space within the riffs and grooves. Gone is the fuzzy bluster of earlier albums. Interestingly, after the 5th tracked instrumental interlude ‘Intermezzo’ – there are four in total – the album takes a slow route into sounding on occasions like one of Tucker’s old associates, My Morning Jacket. Just listen to ‘Come and Gone’, as vocals, synths, guitar chords float and drift like the time John D. Cronise is singing about.
They do on occasions aim further for a cinematic widescreen sound High Country hinted at. The album’s short opener ‘Prelude’ reappears in slightly altered forms in the afore-mentioned ‘Come and Gone’ and in the closing ‘Come and Gone – Reprise’, so the album does inhibit its own sphere rather than just an ordered collection of rock tunes. While the extra usage of synths creates a spatial vibe where the fuzz, the southern rock riffs, and retro influences fed through a contemporary production has room to breathe.
All of this then makes Used Future an intriguing as well as an enjoyable rock album. They have pushed for something a little bit different and they have largely achieved this. They still retain their inner rockiness but have cultivated it to make Used Future ultimately sound like a natural progression from High Country while the furthering dip into their home state’s rock heritage is a welcome addition. On top of this, Tucker Martine as producer is an inspired choice because Used Future has the potential to sound timeless, which only the proceeding time will allow us, in due course, to judge.